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How To Use the Moroccan Hammam

Maybe you’ve heard of it, and maybe you’re wondering what is a hammam? The Moroccan hammam is one of the most widely loved and yet puzzling experiences for people who have never visited or Morocco nor had the opportunity to try a hammam. Many “must do in Morocco” lists include take a hammam but just what does that mean and why is it such a revered tradition?

It’s hard to imagine but not so long ago it was very uncommon for people to have their own shower or bath in their homes. I can remember my grandparents telling stories about taking a bath in a metal tub once a week. Water, and especially hot water was a precious commodity before the era of hot water heaters. In Morocco a practical solution was created to get around this difficulty.

The hammam.

Today you’ll find a wide range of hammams in Moroccan cities. The most traditional variety are found in neighborhoods everywhere. You also will find luxury hammams in major cities. A third variety are a step up from traditional hammams but more affordable than luxury style. Depending on which you will visit, your experience will vary.

courtesy Moroccan National Tourism Board
courtesy Moroccan National Tourism Board

Visiting a Luxury Hammam

If you opt for a more upscale hammam your experience will be similar to that of a spa. While each is slightly different you’ll be asked to undress (leave on your underwear), and given a robe. You’ll be escorted to a warm/hot room and asked to sit and relax. Next, savon beldi is used and rubbed all over then rinsed off.

Now comes the interesting part.

Using a kess, an exfoliated hand mit, a woman will scrub your entire body. Yes, it may feel rough but this is what removes the dead skin. If it’s too hard, let her know! Bshwiya means slow down or soften up. You may be asked to turn over, move around or lay down. Once she’s satisfied then she’ll either continue bathing you by washing off with your soap, and shampooing and rinsing your hair as well or she’ll leave you to do this alone. The entire process takes 30-45 minutes.

Visiting a Neighborhood Hammam

What you’ll need to bring;

  • a full change of clothing
  • savon beldi (a blackish looking soap made with olive oil)
  • a kess 
  • your own regular soap and shampoo
  • water bucket and small cup or bucket for scooping water
  • a small foldable mat for the floor
  • razor, facewash and any other toiletries you use when bathing
  • a towel and/or robe
  • plastic flip flops or other shoes that can get wet
  • brush and any other products you use after a bath
Moroccan Hammam Supply Checklist

Going to a neighborhood hammam is a completely different experience. One of the biggest differences is that the screen of privacy is removed. A local hammam reminds me of a three part locker room shower house. On entering you will pay someone, usually a woman at the entrance. If you want to bathe yourself it’s 10-20 dirham (depending on the hammam), if you want to be scrubbed it’s about 50 dirham.

The next room you enter has long benches. This is where you change your clothing. What do you wear in a hammam? Nothing, or at least very little. Take off everything, except your underwear, wrap up in your towel and wear your flip flops. You’ll then give your bag of clothing to another woman who monitors the cubbies of belongings. Take with you the items you need for bathing (soap/shampoo etc).

You’ll then be greeted by the woman who does the scrubbing. For someone who has never been to a hammam it may be a shock to discover not only will your attendant will also likely be naked aside from underwear, the hammam is full of other women of all ages in a similar state. Most people are caught off guard as they assume the conservatively dressed women outside would be more guarded. Not so.

Moroccan Neighborhood Hammam
Neighborhood Hammam entrance

Your attendant will bring you into the bathing area and set aside your towel. Once inside you’ll notice three different rooms. They start with a warm room, than a warmer room and finally the hottest room. Let her lead the way! Find a spot and get yourself set up. She’ll use your water bucket and possibly others that are there to use.

You’ll want to remember only to use your water buckets. They’re filled by spigots in each room and that can mean a wait at times if the hammam is busy. Don’t steal someone else’s bucket!

After rinsing off you start by using savon beldi and rubbing it all over. Leave it on for 5-10 minutes, sit back and relax. Moroccan women go to the hammam as much for a bath as they do to catch up on gossip! When it’s time your lady will come back and rinse you off.

She’ll ask for your kess and will start scrubbing. This isn’t a delicate procedure! Remember bshwiya means go softer. You may feel like a toddler again being flipped over and handled while she ensures you’re cleaned top to bottom. When she’s satisfied she’ll start rinsing away all the skin that’s been removed.

Then you’re on your own to soap up and rinse off, wash your hair, shave your legs whatever it is you typically do in the bath. She’ll continue to bring you water to use as needed.

When you’re done, gather up everything and make your way back to the changing room to get dressed. Voila! Expect to spend at least 45 minutes at the hammam but take your time. Many Moroccan women spend several hours!

Hammams in Morocco are very unique and can be a wonderful way of experiencing local culture. Leave your modesty at the door and let the experience speak for itself. Trust me, you’ve never felt as clean as you will after a hammam!

My recommended Marrakech hammams;

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Wednesday 23rd of October 2019

Is there Hammam that just have men attendants?

Amanda Mouttaki

Thursday 24th of October 2019

Most spa hammams have just female attendants. In a neighborhood hammam there is a male side and female side that are separate and have attendants of the same gender.

Nancy Brady

Wednesday 1st of May 2019

This is such a wonderful blog post, Shukran, Tanamirt!!! I have experienced both a spa hammam in Marrakesh and Fes and also a local one in Rissani. I love them both..the ones in Fes was private and there was a massage at end, the one in Marrakesh was upscale and I went with women in my group. We enjoyed mint tea on lounge chairs in our robes with just undies on. Then we were taken upstairs by the woman who would work on us...just as you described. The one in Rissani is local and I went with my guides sisters and nieces ages 9 up to 60, again, with two woman from my group. This was to me, the real deal and my favorite. As you described about the 3 rooms...and all we had scrubbed was our backs...we did ourselves and each other...such a beautiful bonding experience. This hammam had children (both sexes and young) along with women of all ages. I sat resting leaning against a wall and watched a woman scrubbing another woman, who was laying on her mat on the floor. She didn't miss a spot on her body and I wondered how she could have any skin left...it seemed like a massage too. Was so beautiful to see woman taking care of each other this way. Lots of stares at us because we were not local...especially me with my long pure white hair. It helped to be with a local family, but don't think I would go on my own to this kind of hammam.

Chris Carrieri

Tuesday 4th of December 2018

I have been in the hammam many times when women put the henna in their hair. Being a blonde, I did not experience it myself, but most of the older women did it to cover their gray hairs!

Kara Murphy

Sunday 10th of December 2017

Hi - thanks so much for the article. Do you have any recommendations for introducing kids to a hammam? I’ll be traveling there in a few weeks with my three kids, ages 4, 6, and 9. My oldest is a boy and the other two are girls. We’ll be in both Fez and Marrakech. Thanks!!!

Amanda Mouttaki

Sunday 17th of December 2017

You'd need to find a private hammam as most don't allow gender mixing at that age. I would check with your riad/hotel first as that will be easiest with the process!


Tuesday 10th of October 2017

I currently work in the British Academy in Fes, and today I went with my Moroccan friend to a hammam in her nieghborhood for the first time! It was the most relaxing experience ever, I swear. I thought I would be a little uncomfortable with the nakedness, but they treated it as such a normal thing that I was immediately at ease and didn't even think about it at all. Definitely something that everyone who visits must do :) I plan to go back once a week